Monday, January 26, 2015

Do My Questions Mean that I am Islamophobic?

In May of 2014, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, by the name of Raif Baddawi, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and to be publically flogged with 1,000 lashes, yes, one thousand!  Why?  Because he supposedly insulted Islam by creating an online forum to freely engage in dialogue, inviting insightful discussion about the Islamic faith.  He was supposedly exercising the right to freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.  He was also ordered to pay a fine of one million Saudi riyals (about $260,000).  The thousand lashes were to be given out at 50 per week for 20 weeks.  It is reported that ill health has prevented this from happening according to schedule.

As I read about this I began to wonder and ask myself: Saudi Arabia is an oil rich country, why do we not hear of Muslim refugees fleeing to Saudi Arabia for safety and protection, being as how it so solidly supports the Islamic faith?

Then I wonder, given the expected standard of respect for human beings and their values, why does the demand for such respect seem so one sided?  When it comes to countries like Saudi Arabia, it seems to show very little respect or tolerance for anyone that strays even a little from their own narrow definition of applied Islamic law.  Yet Western countries, such as France e.g., are castigated for disrespecting the Islamic faith and all Islamic people around the world simply for trying to maintain its own laws, such as freedom of speech.

And then I have to ask, why do Muslim immigrants get to demand respect for their laws, traditions, customs, and faith practices in their new host countries, while Christians cannot and dare not do the same in all Islamic controlled countries such as Saudi Arabia?

Then I wonder why Islam and its prophet Mohammed is the only religion (seemingly) that must not be criticized, scrutinized, or satirized?  In the West, Jesus is made fun of, insulted, and even blasphemed against, quite regularly; but those who say and do such things will not damage or minimize Christ’s true divine authority nor destroy my faith in Christ.  For me, Christ is and always will be, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  It’s only a matter of time when all people will realize this.  This I believe.  Yet, I have no desire to kill or to even hate anyone that shows disrespect for Jesus.

So why is the Prophet Mohammed to be treated as if he were more sacrosanct than Jesus Christ?  Or why is the Prophet Mohammed so much more fragile than Christ, that one dare not say anything negative about him?  And why can’t I freely say, without fear of having my life threatened, that I do not in the least believe that the Prophet Mohammed is a Prophet of God at all, in the same way that many, many people are free to say that they don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world?

Of course, then I have to ask, why are Islamic leaders able to preach, teach, and even proselytize their faith to make converts in free Western countries, while this same action, if done by Christian leaders in countries like Saudi Arabia is punishable by death?

I confess, I then get a little irritated and impatient (I’m not saying this is right of me or that I am doing well when I get this way or that I am being wise at such times).  Then I ask: so, why is it that when a Western country like France passes laws against the wearing of the burka, e.g., it is considered racist, restrictive, bad form, and unjust?  Yet a country like Saudi Arabia is free to flog a man with one thousand lashes and imprison the same for 10 years just for wanting to have an open and intelligent discussion, perhaps even questioning some items, about the Islamic faith?  It just seems so one sided and so unjust to me.

I have to wonder, as I see Muslims moving into Western countries and then expect and demand certain rights and freedoms from the West, while Christians who live or work in Middle Eastern countries, like Saudi Arabia, cannot and dare not expect the same rights and freedoms, where’s the fairness or justice or balance in that?

Just why exactly then, is Islam so rigid and fragile, that no one can question its laws or practices or traditions without having his or her life threatened for it?

I think these are fair questions that many non-Muslims have a right to be asking, without being immediately shut down and accused of being bigots, racist, or Islamophobic (apparently the new bad that we are not supposed to be).

Monday, January 19, 2015

Unseen Motorcyclists and Drivers that Take them Down

I drive a motorcycle.  What can I say; I take my chances and watch out for the other guy, the guy on four wheels.

I’ve gone down a few times.  They say it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.”  Sand, gravel, oil, wet leaves, ice, depending on where you live and drive, they all take a bike down.  So do inobservant drivers, careless drivers, distracted drivers, impatient reckless drivers, they all have their own brutal way of taking a biker down.

How many times has it been said, “I didn’t see him”?  Biker down, the bike on one side, or perhaps underneath, broken and twisted; the rider on the other side, or pinned in, crushed and mangled—all because he was “unseen.”

Not too long ago I myself almost became another statistic.  It was close, very close.  Would I have survived the collision?  I don’t know.  And, what did the other driver say to me: “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you.”  “Yah, you got that right!”  I thought.

It was so obvious to me why she didn’t see me.  When she came to the stop sign at the intersection (where I had the right-of-way, no stop-sign for me, crossing cars were to stop and wait for me), she barely stopped at all.  She made a “California Stop,” which is to say she rolled through the stop sign.  Actually she did more than merely “roll” through, as I saw it.

In short, she (yes, it was a woman, but men are just as bad), did not stop in order to look; rather, she looked in order to see if she needed to stop; that is, she preferred to just keep going.  There is a big difference between the two modes: stopping to look or looking so as to keep going.  And that’s why she did NOT see me!

This was not a main thorough fare that we were on.  It was a back road intersection, not a lot of traffic.  She did not expect much cross traffic.  She certainly did not expect a motorcycle.  Not looking for much, she saw just what she was expecting and hoping for—nothing!  Thus, she failed to see me.  And guess what!  I was wearing one of those loud orange colored vests, over my leather jacket, the kind that road workers wear.  I couldn’t have been dressed more appropriately in order to BE seen.

Her blindness was not the fault of the motorcycle being too small to see.  Her blindness was in her head, in her attitude, in her presumptive expectation.  She really did not want to be bothered with the stop-sign at all.  As I said above, she barely stopped at all.  She more than coasted through the intersection, failing to even slow down very much, let alone come to a complete stop in order to look.  This is why her only defense to me was, “I didn’t see you.”  So true, she wasn’t really looking for me, or anyone else for that matter.  She felt badly.  She apologized.  But she didn’t own up.  She excused herself both inwardly and outwardly by implying that bikes, motorcyclists are just too damn hard to see.  NO!  That’s not it!!  She didn’t see because she simply glanced with a perfunctory look, hoping not to have to stop at all.  And so, her blindness was one of intent and spirit, attitude and mindset!

So, don’t blame the motorcyclist with the implied accusation—motorcyclists are just too damn hard to see.  They’re not!  Not if you really bother to look, really look at what’s coming or what’s crossing at an intersection.  Driving requires attentiveness, something our society seems to be losing more of over time.  We now split our attention into multiple channels and we proudly and happily call it the ability to multitask.  We’re in a hurry.  We don’t want to slow down, let alone stop.  And so goes our driving as well.

The next time you almost hit a motorcyclist, or worse, actually do bring one down; and you defend yourself by proclaiming, “I never saw the guy coming!”  Think about what you were really doing at the moment.  Your thoughts, your intentions, what really preoccupied you at the time the accident occurred or almost occurred?  Then ask if it is really fair for you to imply blame on the so-called “invisibility” aspect of the motorcyclist.  As if we motorcyclists are driving around wearing an invisibility cloak, just to scare the bejesus out of auto-drivers with our so-called sudden appearance out of nowhere.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Is Religion Dangerous?

All religions are not equal.  And all adherents to a specific religion neither practice nor equally believe everything in the same way within that one religion. 

I think it is safe to say that within as well as between all religions there are good beliefs and bad beliefs, good practices and bad ones.  In effect this means that some religions deserve more respect and consideration than others, given the nature of their specific teachings and practices.

Likewise, people are all over the map in their response or attitude toward faith and religion.  Some simply tolerate religion and presume that faith in God is nothing more than a childish human weakness—as in the old quip that religion is the opium of the masses.  For others, religion is primary, first and foremost as the author and giver of life’s meaning and purpose, and life’s ultimate end.

Whatever the practice, belief, or attitude about religion, one thing is sure, religion is here to stay.  Religious faith is alive and well.  Belief in God, a Higher Being, or belief in “that which is greater than I” is real and is powerful, guiding and instructing, directing and leading billions of people on the face of this planet.  Indeed, those who believe in no God are in the minority.  And I dare to say, always will be.

The fact is that many religions, especially the larger ones, overlap and agree in many of their moral and ethical teachings about being honest, having integrity, being good, patient, kind, generous, having respect for others, etc., etc.

So why do religions have such a tough time with each other where they disagree?  Because where religions disagree is where the core issues arise with respect to cultural values, social rules, applied freedoms and/restrictions, and the exercise of power and authority to enforce them.

This is why, for example, here in America there is ongoing and unrelenting tension between Secularism and Christianity, the dominate religions (most influential) in the U.S.  Yes, whether they admit it or not, those who subscribe to the Secular/Humanistic persuasion, do so in a religious faith like manner, no less so than adherents of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, for example.  That is, Humanists religiously want to enforce Humanistic cultural values and laws accordingly, as would adherents of any other faith.  And thus we have “culture wars” with respect to our nation’s core values, social rules, and the power and authority exercised over them.

Now throw into the mix the radicals of any religious faith or belief system (including Secular/Humanism), the far left or far right, and what do you have?  Global life threatening power struggles!  And that’s where we’re at in 2015.  Whose rights and privileges, which truths and values, what rules and regulations, shall prevail upon us?  Whose power and authority will command our way of life?

In a place like Saudi Arabia, or Jordan, or Iran, for example, it is clear that Islamic Sharia Law commands the people’s way of life.  In a place like the U.S. it was at one time assumed that our Judeo-Christian heritage along with the precedence of Roman Imperial law, embedded in our Western Civilization’s historical development, had sway over our governing principles and legal applications.  This may be changing.

So what should be our guiding light?  How should a mixed, pluralistic, diverse society form the best laws to ensure basic human rights and freedoms as well as maintain responsible privileges?  How do we have rights without license, freedoms without excessive permissiveness, and privileges without unwarranted indulgence?

There is nothing new under the sun.  The answer is really not that difficult to come by.  Human nature has changed very little over the centuries. Thus, long standing governing principles espoused by ancient prophets and sages and wise ones in all civilizations are as relevant today as they were millenniums ago: Live by the golden rule, seek to be balanced in all things, that is, avoid excess and extremes, be fair and just, have respect for all life, do not oppress, create an economy that provides for a fair and equitable distribution of wealth and resources so that all may have the opportunity to prosper, not just a chosen few; in business use just weights and measures and treat workers with respect and dignity.  Be a person of integrity, a person whose word is true and trustworthy.  Think communally as well as individually; that is, we are responsible for each other, not just one’s self, and so-on and so-forth.

All major Religions teach as much.  They are universal teachings, wise principles that all should learn to follow and apply in order to become fully human.  And they work well, creating a prosperous and peaceful community, when the majority of people embrace them and live by them.  Hence, religion is not dangerous as such.  However, religious practices and teachings do become dangerous when these universal teachings are set aside for peculiar and sectarian ones that excuse their practitioners from submitting to these greater universal principles.  We call such religious practitioners “extremists” for good reason.  For they place themselves above such universal principles and presume to be the gatekeepers of their own particular standards of righteousness, goodness, and holiness.  That’s when religion becomes dangerous.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Relentless Pursuit of Money: Having a Good Year

Will 2015 be a good year?  We don’t know.  But what makes for a good year?  Most of us believe it’s all about financial success.  Yes, this is true: financial success is good, if, by “financial success,” we mean having the ability to pay for our needs and some appropriate wants—food, shelter, and clothing, basically life’s necessities, along with some extras that allow us to have a little fun and enjoyment in life; that is to say, financial success within moderation.  What a thought!  Who has ever heard of financial success within moderation?

In short, it’s hard to say when “enough is enough.”  We tend to “want it all.”  When do we ever have enough toys and gadgets, things to play with?  When is the house we live in, our shelter, large enough, nice enough, comfortable enough to satisfy us?  When is the car we drive ever good enough, new enough, luxurious enough?  How much money do we really need in order to be truly happy and content, satisfied with what we have?

Many of us may start off with the right priority in terms of work and money.  We go to work in order to live, to provide for house and home and family, as well as to possibly add value to people’s lives, that is, to make the world a better place.  But how often does success turn this upside down and we find ourselves doing the opposite: living in order to work, to make more and then even more—money, money, and more money.  “That’s a problem?”  You ask.  Well, yes; here’s why.

First, living to work, that is, making the pursuit of the all mighty dollar as the number one purpose in life, often leads to sacrificing the family, the very reason one gives as justification for one’s intense drive to pursue money in the first place—wanting to provide for one’s family.  But what good is that pursuit if it causes one to lose spouse and children along the way?

Secondly, it is a misguided measure of real success and happiness.  It’s been said before and it must be said again: having lots of money is actually not a good indicator of satisfaction and happiness in life—yes, it may bring immediate gratification and pleasure, but guarantees no lasting happiness and contentment in life.  And it certainly does not protect you from life’s deeper threats and challenges such as catastrophic loss as in debilitating illness or even death or other internal emotional, psychological, or spiritual illnesses (buffers yes, but prevents, no).

Thirdly, it is a misguided source for personal value and self-worth, or for having meaning and purpose in life.  Money cannot buy authentic friendship nor can it purchase genuine love.  Nor can money fill-in the hole or gap within one’s inner-being where there is no real inner-peace, no true sense of self-worth or self-respect, which touches upon the fourth and most important point.

Fourthly the pursuit of money, as the end-all in life, leads to the neglect of one’s most precious possession—one’s soul.  What good is it to gain the whole world only to lose one’s soul, Jesus said.  This is a deep, wise and penetrating truth, so often ignored, even dismissed as irrelevant nonsense; yet, it is a truth that will haunt many at the end of life.  This is where the lesson of Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ tale, A Christmas Carol, is so apropos.  May we all learn what the character Scrooge learned from his visiting spirits—about work, money, life, and our reason for being.

I pray that 2015 be a good year.  I pray that we all prosper.  I pray that the power and financial abuses of big cats from Wall Street are curtailed and that the humble American family living on Main Street USA may thrive once more and is given more economic empowerment, not less.  I pray that our politicians pay less attention to the guy who greases his or her palm and gives more attention to the just needs of the middle class.  But, politics and human nature being what they are, I must confess, my prayers are weak, for I have little confidence that the rich and powerful will suddenly see the light and the error of their ways in the year 2015.

Side note: Am I being too hard on the rich and powerful?  Of course, the poor are no more saintly than the rich.  But we know when the poor does harm to society: stealing, cheating, burglary, robbery, drug addiction, gang involvement, the drug trade, etc.  But what do we know about white collar crime?  How are the crimes done in the high rise offices within city skyscrapers policed, caught, and held accountable when they do harm to society?  My guess is that we seldom learn about such crimes and when we do, there is little that is done to change things at that level.